As another year turns, we're reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same. As our popular culture pushes ever further into anything goes, we're reminded that anything-goes has certainly gone before.
Pick up St. Augustine's "Confessions," and find him traveling to Carthage in the year 371, where "I found myself in a hissing cauldron of lust." Looking back, he regretted how in his desperate search for love, "I muddied the stream of friendship with the filth of lewdness and clouded its clear waters with Hell's black river of lust."
This was not the way Augustine saw it in the dissolute days before he found God, and it is certainly not the way our entertainment elite sees love and sex today. But it's interesting how at that time, Augustine found his sorrows drowned at the theater, "because the plays reflected my unhappy plight and were tinder to my fire." He was amazed how no one actually wanted to experience sadness and tragedy firsthand, but many were thrilled to watch it faked before them. They wanted the vicarious experience of risky emotional highs and tragic emotional lows without the actual, nonfictional pain. Curiosity could drag them anywhere, to spy on the ribald and disastrous ways "the other half lived."
That urge still has echoes today. Led by the usual hallowed envelope-pushers of pay cable, Hollywood has marched ever more passionately in this decade into chronicling and celebrating a cavalcade of alternative lifestyles. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation coos over how on this season, Showtime's lesbian drama, "The L Word," will have a full-time "trans-gendered" character. HBO's Wild West drama "Deadwood," previously well-known for its "lyrical" flood of profanities, will feature a new "gay and eccentric theater owner" character in the new year.
But HBO is really trampling new weeds by ushering in a new hot alternative lifestyle this spring -- polygamy. Newsweek is already raving in their "Who's Next" year-end issue about "Big Love," starring Bill Paxton as a man with three wives in three adjoining houses with seven kids between them.